U.S. Senate panel expected to vote on bill allowing lawsuits against OPEC

WASHINGTON, April 28 (Reuters) - A U.S. Senate panel will consider as soon as next week a bill to open the OPEC oil production group and countries working with it to lawsuits for collusion on boosting petroleum prices, Senator Chuck Grassley's office said on Thursday.

The bill, sponsored by Grassley, a Republican, Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, and others, will be considered as the Biden administration struggles to control oil and gasoline prices that have surged on uncertainty about global crude supplies after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The NOPEC bill gives the option to the U.S. Attorney General to sue oil-producing countries, such as those in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, under anti-trust laws. A similar version passed the U.S. House Judiciary Committee last year. read more

While NOPEC legislation has failed in the U.S. Congress for almost 22 years, backers said this could be the year it passes because of the actions by Russia, which has recently been producing about 10% of the world's oil.

"Now, given the soaring energy prices and the administration's engagements with foreign oil producers, ensuring fair pricing and production practices has never been more important," said Taylor Foy, a spokesperson for Grassley.

The Senate Judiciary Committee canceled a meeting on Thursday in which it was set to consider the measure. The committee will likely consider it next Thursday.

Oil prices surged to their highest levels since 2008 earlier this year following Russia's invasion of Ukraine and remain at more than $100 a barrel on fears the conflict will keep supplies tight in an already stressed global crude market. .

Saudi Arabia, the top producer in OPEC, has rebuffed calls by Washington to boost oil output by more than the gradual increases it has agreed to as a member of the OPEC+ group which includes Russia.

If the legislation passes both chambers of Congress, it would need President Joe Biden's signature to become law. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether Biden supports the bill.

An analyst group said the legislation could move quickly.

"Lawmakers could simply graft it onto a supplemental funding package to support the Ukrainian response to the Russian invasion," said ClearView Energy Partners, a nonpartisan research group, in a note to clients. "If that were to occur, the bill could become law within a matter of weeks."

Reporting by Timothy Gardner, Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Richard Pullin

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Thomson Reuters

Timothy reports on energy and environment policy and is based in Washington, D.C. His coverage ranges from the latest in nuclear power, to environment regulations, to U.S. sanctions and geopolitics. He has been a member of three teams in the past two years that have won Reuters best journalism of the year awards. As a cyclist he is happiest outside. Contact: +1 202-380-8348